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Marius Keet, Chief Director: Water Quality Regulation, Department of Human Settlements, Water & Sanitation, explained that a conservative figure of R49-billion is needed for mining rehabilitation in South Africa.

During his keynote address at the recent Joburg Indaba breakfast session in September, he set the tone by providing a concise picture of the current state of water quality in South Africa.

“Everyone knows that water quality is a development issue affecting social, economic, industrial, agricultural, health and many other sectors, and it is in a very poor state in South Africa, with 44% of waste treatment plants in the country not critical but facing serious challenges and a conservative figure of R49-billion is needed for mining rehabilitation alone.”

Keet explained that the prevailing issues include weak legislation; poor mining/environmental practices; new mines proposed/developed in sensitive catchments; a lack of funding; and mine closure either absent or weakly implemented.”

He proposed solutions that focused on fast-tracked implementation of the integrated water quality management strategy and the waste discharge charge system; an environmental levy on the mining sector; data management with improved and innovative technology; the annual WQM Report for public scrutiny to show who are the real polluters, as well as success stories; an anti-pollution task team; and improved regulation of the water value chain.

Growing pressure from external stakeholders, including government, communities, investors, environmental organisations and even consumers, means that mining companies have no choice but to implement sustainable business practices and reduce the impact of mining on the environment throughout the entire lifecycle of the mine. At the Joburg Indaba breakfast session, leading experts addressed best practices, what it takes to mine responsibly and what to consider when evaluating the sustainability of a mining project.

During the panel discussion Khetiwe McClain, CEO for Mine Closure and Rehabilitation Solutions, proposed that mines think about the outcomes of their closure when still in the design and planning phase: “All plans must be aligned to the final closure plan including collaboration with other mines in the area. This cannot be done in isolation as it impacts on the entire area, not only the individual mining site, and rivers don’t adhere to mining boundaries. Social and labour plans are critical from the outset.”

Mongezi Veti, Head of Sustainability, Exxaro Resources, agreed that is starts with  good leadership. “We need to understand a mining company doesn’t exist in isolation and has to ensure efforts at environmental stewardship. It’s not enough to simply comply; we are obligated to do more so we impact positively on society.”

Different mines invest differently in the problem, added Warren Adams, MD of Jaro Capital. “Some simply tick the list while others take a keen interest in sustainability.There is a need for stakeholders to have a massive mind shift to becoming more responsible.”

Nikisi Lesufi, Senior Executive: Environment, Health and Legacies, Minerals Council South Africa, suggested implementing new technologies: “We can reduce the volume of waste and the toxicity of waste by using new technology available to us. Our reporting systems are not up to scratch; if we had real time water management with self assessment tools to compare ourselves to others in terms of performance status, think of the difference it would make.”

“We also need to look at the transition when a mine is closed – how do we use the infrastructure, land and water? The old days of closing and grassing over are unsustainable; we need to transition from one form of economic activity directly to another.”

Lesufi was supported by Ingrid Watson, Programme Manager, Centre for Sustainability in Mining and Industry, Wits University, who believes these challenges require more people to be involved in mine closure activities: “Landscape architects, creatives, people who don’t see the world from a mining perspective. And we need a mosaic of different land use leveraging the broader landscape opportunities for the whole region, not just the site.”

Yogan Reddy, Africa Water Sector Leader, PwC agreed: “The available land opens up a number of opportunities and can be utilized for agriculture, energy production (solar), water provision and many other businesses.”

Chairperson of the Joburg and Junior Indabas, Bernard Swanepoel, said the industry should lead the way forward and not be bullied into change. “We need to be clearer on what our environmental and social footprint is when we leave an area; our impact is way beyond the physical footprint. Getting serious about this impact means adopting new technologies, being more transparent and designing holistically with regional co-operation.”

The main event, The Joburg Indaba, takes place on 3-4 October 2019, at the Inanda Polo Club Johannesburg (for more information visit www.joburgindaba.com).

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